Cruise ships these days are a lot like iPhones: They’re out of date in six months. What’s more, plenty of fuss is made about the latest and greatest cruise ships to be introduced every year. Next year is no exception, with megaliners like Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista and Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas debuting along with a whole host of other vessels that are set to continually advance cruising as we know it.But all that glitters isn’t new; in fact, cruise lines are investing in their existing fleets more than ever before – and sometimes older ships can offer up a number of advantages over their more well-publicized younger siblings.
Of course, few ships are truly “old” nowadays; for most cruise lines, we’re talking about vessels constructed in the past two decades. This is a marked difference from even just a decade ago, when plenty of ships built during the 1960’s could be found plying the oceans of the world.
So why should you consider sailing aboard an older cruise ship? Here’s a few reasons why we like them:
1. Older Ships Typically Carry Fewer Passengers
You could argue that the 15-year old Radiance of the Seas offers a different cruising experience than the upcoming third Oasis-class cruise ship, and you’d be right. But different doesn’t equal bad, and plenty of older ships still offer a lot to love.
Older cruise ships can also offer more open deck space than their newer contemporaries. This depends on the ship and the line, of course, but with competition heating up on the mainstream cruise front to build increasingly elaborate water parks, ropes courses, zip lines and the like, the one area that’s losing out is the availability of open deck space for reading, sun tanning, or just staring out into the ocean.
2. Older Ships Are Often More Affordable
That doesn’t mean that all older ships offer more value-oriented itineraries than their newer counterparts, but they certainly can. It’s all about supply and demand. Some older ships can offer downright bargain sailings while still offering a cruise experience that is truly spectacular.
3. Older Ships Often Sail Unique Itineraries
When new ships come out, they’re often put on the most lucrative runs. For many cruise lines, that means winters in the eastern and western Caribbean, and summers in the Mediterranean. They’re great runs, but not terribly inventive.
Older ships, on the other hand, are frequently placed on the more interesting itineraries. Because of their (typically) smaller size, they can sail to more off-the-beaten path ports of call that larger ships just can’t dock at.
They also have more diversity in their deployments, from Northern Europe to the Baltics, itineraries in Australia and New Zealand, and Alaska. The latter tends to be territorial; there’s a small collection of ships in the region that work – and work well – and no one is eager to tinker with the magic formula.
In Alaska, you’ve got tried-and-true ships like Holland America Line’s Oosterdam and her Vista-class sisters. Princess always sends some of its best Grand Class ships to the region, and Royal Caribbean is upping the ante there in 2016 by sending the massive Explorer of the Seas there for the first time.
4. There’s a Nostalgia Factor
There’s Carnival Cruise Line’s trendsetting Carnival Fantasy, which started the Joe Farcus-inspired neon décor phase of Carnival’s history. Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, initially scheduled to join Spanish operator Pullmantur next spring, was given a reprise at the last moment due to high customer demand. The classy 1992-built ship will stay in the Royal Caribbean fleet for the foreseeable future, running three and four day voyages to the Bahamas.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s 1999-built Norwegian Sky recalls a pivotal turning point in the history of the company, and exists as a near (but far from exact) sister-ship to bothNorwegian Sun and the 1996 Costa Victoria.
There can be other reasons for sailing aboard older cruise ships, and sadly, they carry a sense of urgency. The simple fact is that older ships don’t often remain in a cruise line’s fleet for long once they hit a certain age. Holland America Line’s 1994 Maasdam and 1996Veendam should be on any classic cruiser’s must-sail list. With Statendam and Ryndambeing refitted as we type this to join the P&O Australia fleet, their younger fleetmates’ days are definitely numbered.
The newest cruise ships may offer all the bells and whistles you can imagine, but older cruise ships still have a heck of a lot to offer – and depending on what you’re looking for in a cruise, they just might be a better fit too.
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